If you noticed something different during the kickoff to the college football season two weeks ago, chances are you weren’t imagining things.
Riddell, Inc., the Rosemont-based sports-equipment company, has quietly unveiled a new football helmet designed to reduce the frequency of head trauma among players. Elusive as the perfect helmet may be, the iconic brand continues its quest to make the game safer for professional and amateur athletes by implementing innovative engineering technologies and philosophies to its gear.
Dubbed the “SpeedFlex,” Riddell’s latest model employs a method called the Flex System. The helmet—a combination of grooves and a frontal lobe panel that allows for a quarter-inch of “give” upon impact—intends to mitigate forceful, and often brutal, hits to the head by applying a makeshift cushion to vital areas of the crown. The system applies to the helmet’s shell, facemask, and facemask attachments including its hinge clips. The helmet also features a ratchet-style chinstrap for a more secure fit, and a redesigned interior that molds to the player’s head.
Dan Arment, president of Riddell, said in a statement: “With this helmet we sought to improve player protection while delivering tangible benefits to the athlete. We’re confident these new features will quickly become design standards for Riddell, and raise the bar for football helmet performance and protective technologies across the industry.”
Riddell looked at more than 2 million points of data captured from its head-impact monitoring technologies. The company also took into account feedback from players who cited comfort and look as the two most important factors for a good helmet design. The end result is something a little bit country, a little bit rock ’n’ roll.
Crain’s Chicago Business reports that the SpeedFlex is Riddell’s second new helmet design in three years, a follow up to the Riddell 360, which hit the marketplace in 2012. In 12 years Riddell has released three different helmet designs ostensibly intended to curb head injuries. Crain’s also reports that the SpeedFlex won’t be widely available to youth and high school programs until 2015, albeit at a premium price (a new SpeedFlex is projected to retail at $400 upon its wide release).
The SpeedFlex debuts at a paradoxical period of time, now when the National Football League has seen an exponential rise in popularity over the last several years. Aptly dubbed “America’s Game,” the NFL rakes in approximately $10-$15 billion each season. It’s the highest grossing professional sport in the world. The football empire, however, has been mired in recent reports of rampant concussions and multi-million dollar lawsuits claiming negligence and abuse. The reports have undoubtedly had an impact elsewhere. Just last year, ESPN’s investigative reporting branch, “Outside the Lines,” reported that participation in Pop Warner football, the largest youth football program in the country, geared towards kids ages 5-14, declined by nearly 10 percent between 2010-2012. It’s thought to be the most dramatic two-year decline in a decade.
High school football has seen similarly alarming numbers in recent years. In 2013 the National Academy of Sciences released a 306-page report that revealed concussions and head injuries are most frequent among high school football players. The report also revealed that the average high school player is nearly twice as likely to suffer a concussion as a college player. According to Head Case, a family-run, grassroots campaign that intends to make sports safer for children, nearly 47% of all reported sports concussions occur during high school football.
Though Riddell claims that the SpeedFlex doesn’t guarantee the prevention of concussions, the company maintains that it’s the next step towards reducing the rate and frequency of head injuries. Touted by Riddell as the first helmet equipped with the Riddell Impact Response System (a built-in high grade technology that monitors impact through sensors that send alerts to a handheld device), the new gear is making a push towards an all-around safer playing field.